The Great White North turns 140 today, and I'm sitting here sweating in the ferocious heat of California's high desert, my heart aching with pride and longing. Longing because I'm not there. And pride because, damn it, I'm Canadian.
There was a Molson beer TV commercial a few years ago. The ad originally aired during hockey games (where else?) , but soon became a national sensation.
It starts off with a young man walking up to a microphone. He clears his throat, and starts, hesitantly at first.
"Hey... I'm not a lumberjack or a fur trader.
I don't live in an igloo or eat blubber or own a dog sled and I don't know Jimmy, Sally or Suzie from Canada."
Then he adds, "Although I'm sure they're really, really nice."
A fanfare starts to play quietly in the background.
"I have a prime minister, not a president. I speak English and French, not American, and I pronounce it "about," not "a-boot."
His voice is starting to rise. "I can proudly sew my country's flag on my backpack."
Crowd noises start to be heard. A few stray whistles. By this point, his voice is definitely louder and more passionate and the music has picked up.
"I believe in peacekeeping, not policing; diversity, not assimilation, and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal, a tuque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch and it is pronounced "zed," not "zee"!
He's in full rant now.
"Canada is the second largest land mass, the first nation of hockey and the best part of North America!" he's practically screaming. and then he delivers the punchline.
My name is JOE AND I AM CANADIAN!!!!"
The crowd roars and the music swells.
And then he quietly adds "Thank you."
Silly? Maybe. It's just a shill for a beer, after all. But it touched something in the Canadian psyche. There were T-shirts and parodies and much serious discussion -- once again -- on what it means to be Canadian.
But even now, five years later, I hear that bit (I found an mp3 of it) and my heart breaks a little.
Don't get me wrong. I love D.L., and I generally like my life down here, but I miss Canada. I miss my kids. I miss my family. I miss Montreal.
I miss health care. I miss multiculturalism. I miss a place where speaking more than one language is seen as a plus, not a weakness or a loss of face or a surrender to "them."
I miss the CBC. I miss real weather and seasons and snow. I miss political discussions in a country where everything isn't polarized, where everything isn't controlled by "us' or "them."
I miss poutine. And little restaurants on cobblestone streets, not faceless chain restaurants. I miss feeling safe and fortunate. I miss speaking with people who can argue without hating. I miss speaking with people who can name both the current prime minister AND the current president. I miss skating on outdoor ice, the squeak of snow under my boots and the way, on really cold days, when inhaling freezes -- momentarily-- the insides of your nose.
I miss the TV news being read by journalists; not TV stars.
I miss a place where diplomacy and compromise is seen as a good thing; not as wimping out.
I miss Tim Hortons and bicycle rides along the Lachine Canal. I miss a place where violence is seen as a failure, not a strategy; where rights and dignity and good government and a better life for everyone matter more than an individual's "pursuit of happiness." I miss real bagels. I miss people who know how to spell "neighbour."
I miss being in a place that plays well with others. Canadians, for the most part, know that we may not be the greatest or most powerful country in the world, and we certainly know we're not perfect. But we can live with that, and we know that we're still a pretty damn good place to live. I miss real maple syrup. I miss hockey being on television (The Mighty Corporate Logos won the Stanley Cup this year, and as far as I could tell, not one local station carried it!). I miss the explosion of colour each fall.
I miss, I miss, I miss... Forty years ago, Canada celebrated its centennial. Pearson was prime minister, Trudeau was in the wings, and the World's Fair was in Montreal. I was a kid, but it was a heady time. The world came calling and we were ready. "Hey, Friend, Say Friend" backed with "Un jour, un jour" was the official, inescapable bilingual (of course) theme song that welcomed visitors to Expo 67, and Bobby Gimby's "Ca-Na-Da," sung by a children's chorus, was equally hard to avoid.
But songs and celebrations aren't what really makes a country. It's the people.
So here's to Stompin' Tom and Mordecai Richler, Gordon Lightfoot and Pierre Tremblay, Rene Levesque (no, seriously) and William Shatner, Nick auf de Maur and Jean Beliveau, Anne Murray and Laura Secord, Gump Worsley and Neil Young, Leslie MacFarlane and Brian Moore, Alice Munro and Blue Rodeo, Will Feguson and Norman Jewison, Pierre Berton and Norman Bethune, Magic Tom and Stan Rogers, The Tragically Hip and Ken Dryden, k.d. lang and Tommy Douglas, Donald Sutherland and Mr. Dressup, Roger Doucet and DeMaisonneuve, Lucy Maud Montgomery and Chez Helene, Tecumseh and Nick Adonidas, Hugh McClennan and Michel Pagliaro, Gabrielle Roy and Margaret Atwood, Sir John A. and Pierre Radisson, SCTV and Kids in the Hall, Joni Mitchell and Mackenzie King, the Irish Rovers and Thomas D'arcy McGee, Peter Gzowski and Great Big Sea, Murray McLauchlan and Marshall McLuhan, The Rheostatics and Mack Sennett, Bruce Cockburn and Isaac Brock, Oscar Peterson and Terry Fox, Sarah McLachlan and Banting and Best, Aislin and Wilfred Laurier, Margaret Laurence and The Band, Jacques Hebert and Ross Macdonald, the Friendly Giant and Ginette Reno, Youpi and Farley Mowat, Rick Mercer and Pierre LaVerendrye, Nelly McClung and Gilles Vigneault, and everyone else.
If you get a little rush from hearing any of those names, or are immediately ready to argue at length with me about why I didn't include this person or that one, you know what I'm talking about.
Happy Canada Day.